Othello & The Hobart Shakespearans

Last week, DH and I attended a Shakespeare play in Ashland as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It has become an annual tradition, this being our 3rd year. In past years, we’ve seen A Winter’s Tale and Romeo & Juliet (the best production thus far). This year, I selected Othello.

As we had won a silent auction package at a Chamber function earlier in the year, our seats were good (Section A Row S). However, we were in the balcony and it was difficult to hear the actors. I don’t know if this was solely due to our seats or if the actors were not as audible as they have been in the past.

Othello is performed on the Elizabethan stage open to the air, my favorite. Last year, we attended the preface to learn more about the story, themes and characters of Romeo & Juliet. This year, we didn’t have the luxury of time. I wish we had, however, as I was less familiar with the story of Othello than I was of Romeo & Juliet.

In the playbill, the director writes, “The thing that makes Othello so very modern – and so frightening – is the way it takes us on a journey into madness. It is deeply psychological before the invention of psychology. Iago is a mesmerizing guide on this journey…” Dan Donohue, who plays Iago, is great! He is my favorite actor in the company.

Preforming in the courtyard, prior to seating, were The Hobart Shakespeareans, a group of students from Los Angeles. Inspired by their performance, I bought the book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. It is a fast read and is certainly inspiring!

After reading the reviews on Amazon, however, I agree that Rafe has a rather large ego. One of the biggest advantages he has over the typical public school is that he teaches in a year-round school and though it is an inner-city school, many of his students have previously been identified as ‘gifted’. Additionally, there is a big difference between the children of new immigrants seeking to make a new life for themselves and the children of impoverished families who have lived in American housing projects for generations, have little faith left in the system and are often unmotivated as students and parents.

The book is a fast read and provides several suggestions for fun games and challenging educational activities in all subject areas. Though I had hoped for more practical information on how to teach Shakespeare and integrate baseball into the curriculum, I was intrigued by the diversity of the projects he undertakes in Room 56. I would recommend this book to teachers both in the classroom and in the home.

Barb inquired about the production in a comment she left earlier; “I would love to hear about Othello. We were actually thinking about going to the Festival this year but couldn’t decide on which play to see. We thought Othello might be too dark for the kids.”

To answer her question, I think that older children would do well with the psychology of Othello. Many of the Hobart Shakespeareans were in the theater also enjoying Othello. If your children have been exposed to Shakespeare and are familiar with the stories – they’ll enjoy Othello.

In the Woods

Two families joined us for our monthly Roots & Shoots activity (three others called with apologies they wouldn’t be able to make it – we’re going to do a make-up session on Thursday). We started out with a read aloud, a great children’s book called, In the Woods, Who’s Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George. There are 4 books in this series and all are great. Each page gives little clues or details about an animal and asks, “Who’s been here?” The kids make guesses and when we turn the page, we discover the answer. At the back of the book there is a brief description of each of the animals that was introduced. I love these books and use them frequently. Yesterday morning, the kids and I lead our weekly nature walk at the museum and picked up In the Garden, Who’s Been Here? – the one book in the series I hadn’t yet acquired.

After the book, we did a fun activity from Project Learning Tree called Tree Factory. There is a similar activity in Ranger Rick’s Trees Are Terrific called Build a Tree. The kids basically act out the parts of a tree and in doing so, learn how a tree works like a factory. We all get to act a little silly. It is a lot of fun.
We also did an activity I call, “Secrets of the Forest”. I distribute to each child a small paper bag with assorted things that can be found in the forest (cones, a small rock, a stick, a feather, a beaver chip, an acorn, a tiny tree cookie, lichen, moss, a deer tooth, etc.). The kids put their hand in and try to guess the contents without looking into the bag. It can be varied slightly depending on age – today for example, we did one item at a time and after we went around the circle, each child revealed one item.
We went around twice and then we dumped out the bags to see everything. As the kids investigated the items in their bags, I asked them to pick up the Pine Cone. There were actually three cones in each bag (Pine, Spruce or Fir, and Alder). Most of the kids picked up all three… some picked up just one. I then revealed the secret that not all cones are Pine Cones. Cones on a Spruce should be called Spruce Cones, those on a Fir are Fir Cones, etc.
We had also planned on going for a walk but it was too cold and windy – odd, since we had 90 degree temps over the weekend! The other kids are not accustomed to cold nature walks so instead, we enjoyed a light snack and then allowed the kids to play while we visited.

For the next few weeks, I have asked the kids to draw a picture of a plant or animal that lives here in the community. We are then going to use their illustrations and any research they may do to create a field guide for our community (focus is on native species; excluding ornamentals that have been planted in yards as landscaping). I’ll also incorporate photographs and factual information about each species. We hope to sell the field guides to raise money to buy bird houses for the meadow and the park.

We Are Just Beginning ~ SOTW

I’ve seemingly been absent from the homeschooling/blogging realm lately. Marathon training and an online art class I’ve been taking to renew my teaching certificate have been overwhelming me a little lately. This is, perhaps, what I like best about homeschooling… the ability to relax and allow life and learning to happen naturally. We are not forced into some arbitrary schedule. Though I consider ourselves now to be a Classical/Charlotte Mason Homeschool, I am also very flexible and occasionally, our schooling looks more Unschoolish. For this reason, we won’t be taking the summer months off. We are a year-round school and take advantage of all learning opportunities that we are presented.

After recently reading The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, I did a little research online and was intrigued by The Story of the World. It is a four-volume series of books (with accompanying activity guides) that introduce the student to the history of the world. It is designed to be a read-aloud for parents and teachers to share with elementary school children.

The history of the world is divided into four time periods and ideally, the student would cycle through each time period three time during their school years (grades 1-12). We begin grade 1 with The Ancients and will revisit the same time period again in 5th and 9th grades. As we do so, more indepth (grade level) readings will be integrated and by the third cycle, she’ll be reading original works (i.e., The Odyssey)

Volume 1: Ancient Times

Volume 2: The Middle Ages

Volume 3: Early Modern Times

Volume 4: The Modern Age

I purchased the first volume and planned to get started when Sweetie would unofficially start first grade (Fall ’08). [Because her birthday falls after the Sept 1st cut-off, she would officially be in Kindergarten this fall, however, we started in Aug ’07.] She saw the books in our new homeschooling classroom and immediately started asking questions. She found images of Chinese script and Emperor Qin in the book and was excited (we did a small unit-study on Ancient China in January). She started begging me to start now! I thereby gave in and we got underway last week.

Each chapter is divided into two sections. I read-aloud each section and then stop to allow her time to narrate (re-tell what she heard). Narration is a learning method that can be used for any age and for any subject. The child simply ‘tells back’ what she just had read to her. This simple concept is the cornerstone of a Charlotte Mason homeschool. Essentially, after we’ve watched a movie or educational program or read-aloud a book, I will ask Sweetie to tell me what she can recall. As she does so, I write down her words. When she pauses, I read back what she told me, inquiring if there are any details or facts that she would like to add.

Occasionally, a weak narration can be the result of simple misunderstanding. There may be key vocabulary words that she is not understanding. Maybe a key event was not grasped. When this happens, I ask questions to identify where the problem lies and we may re-read the passage.

Here is a sample narration that Sweetie did after we read “The Earliest People” from The Story of the World, Volume 1: The Ancients. The purple indicates her words. The black italic typeface indicates areas where she paused and said, “That’s all I remember.” When she does this, I try to illicit more information by asking questions. I may also review key vocabulary with her if she uses a word incorrectly.

Indians moved their tents a lot to get food. They looked for lizards, honey, eggs, nuts, seeds, berries, and roots. [We reviewed the term ‘nomads’.] A nomad is a person who moves around a lot looking for food. [When do they decide to move on to a new place? How do they know when to move?] They move when there isn’t as much food anymore.

In the Fertile Crescent and other areas, nomads kept coming back because there was a lot of food there. So they stayed there and started building houses and walls to keep bad guys out. These were the first villages and cities. [What about the animals?] They also started planting crops, raising animals for food, and trading with other people.

Narration also provides a foundation for good writing skills. Right now, as her writing skills are just beginning, she gives oral narrations. But later, those exact same skills of articulation, analysis, application, and comprehension are used in writing expository paragraphs and essays. We will begin transitioning into written narrations (instead of verbal narrations) around age 10 or 11, when she is comfortable writing.

Another Great Book ~ A Classics Based Education It Will Be

I just finished another great book on homeschooling… Anyone considering homeschooling should read this book. Parents who are frustrated with the public school system but fear they wouldn’t be successful teaching their own should read this book.

Let me state for the record that when I decided to homeschool my children, I was honestly intimidated. All my teacher education had brainwashed me. I was convinced that parents couldn’t possibly teach their own children. It had to be done in an institutional setting… professionals with specialized training and expertise. I happen to have a teacher’s certificate. But even now, just 9 months into our homeschooling journey, I have learned more academic material, more about how to manage individual relationships with children, and more about how to teach than I did in any of my teacher-education courses. Teacher-education courses gave me a great deal of good information on how to manage large groups of children. I needed that in schools, but a parent doesn’t need it to teach at home.


The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. It is very similar to The Thomas Jefferson Education that I posted about a few weeks ago… an approach to my children’s education based upon the classics with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing. Teaching history, science and literature in a four-year pattern; a pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery.

Ancients ~ 5000 BC-AD 400 ~ Biology/Plants/Human Body
Medieval/Early Renaissance ~ 400-1600 ~ Earth Science/Astronomy
Late Renaissance/Early Modern ~ 1600-1850 ~ Chemistry
Modern ~ 1850-Present ~ Physics/Computer Science

“This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature – subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the child matures and learns. A first grader may listen to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture-book versions available at any public library. Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations – Olivia Coolidge’s The Trojan War, or example. The ninth grader, faced with Homer’s Ilidad itself – plunges right in, undaunted. She already knows the story. What’s to be scared of?”

It is strongly based upon ancient approaches to education called the trivium, which covered grammar, logic, and rhetoric as the tools by which a student can then analyze and master every other subject. Loosely, logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known; grammar is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-symbolized; and rhetoric is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-communicated

One of the most impressive things about this book is that it doesn’t just provide the theories, reasons, and/or personal accounts for why this approach works. It provides a history of classical education, an overview of the methodology and philosophy of classical education, and best of all (at least in my mind) an annotated lists of books, divided by grade and topic, that list the best books for classical education in each category. In essence, the authors (both homeschoolers themselves!) have done the heavy lifting by filtering through all the materials available today. For math curriculum, for example, they even weigh the pros/cons for all the major curriculum materials (Saxon, A Beka, Singapore, Math-U-See, Calvert, etc.) and thereby make a suggestion for the one that they feel is the best and why. This is why the book is so huge – 810 pages!

Note: Some of their suggestions are of other books they have authored yet they make a strong point of assuring readers to go their own route… choosing what is best for the interests/maturity level/needs/etc. of the students – your children. Their suggestions are just that – suggestions. Potential starting points.

I am so excited to be on this journey with my children. I know there will be good days and bad – bring it on!